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All hands on deck for Whistler firefighters as massive fire forces neighbours to evacuate

Huge fire causes evacuation

Whistler fire crews were busy on Friday night after a large fire at an under-construction building started and quickly grew.

Whistler Fire Rescue Service Chief John McKearney told CTV News that firefighters responded to a call for the home at Sunridge Drive around 11:30 p.m., which looked drastic from a distance.

One video was posted to Twitter by a witness, capturing the thick orange flames in the distance and heavy smoke filling up the sky.

"The captain registered right away that this looked like multiple houses on fire and called for a full complement of career and paid on-call (firefighters), which was the right move," McKearney told CTV News Vancouver. "Having gotten up there, what looked like it was multiple houses was one large structure that was completely timbers and two-by-fours and had no protection on it."

The building had been stripped "down to the studs," according to McKearney since it was undergoing major renovations at the time. The bare base made it "kindling" once the fire started.

Thirty-seven crew members arrived on the scene to find the home fully engulfed in flames.

"The people that were in that house (next door) were evacuated and they left for a period of time, but there was no damage to that house due to the protection lines that were set up," McKearney added.

Firefighters were keeping their focus on preventing the flames from spreading to another nearby home, moving their defensive attack on the west side of the building.

There were also propane tanks left inside the engulfed building by contractors that fire crews were aware of and some of the tanks ended up exploding during the blaze.

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire and no one was inside the building at the time.

So far, no evidence has been found to suggest the blaze is suspicious and the cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to McKearney.

"We do see that the majority of the heat was in what would be considered the southwest corner of the house, so we're just trying to ascertain just what was going on there," he said.

– with files from CTV Vancouver



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Coquitlam RCMP investigate targeted shooting, one person with non-life-threatening injury

Morning shooting injures 1

After an early morning shooting resulted in injury, the Coquitlam RCMP are investigating the incidents that occurred at a residential building and asking for witnesses to come forward.

Police responded to shots fired call early on Saturday morning (Jan. 16), in the 600 block of Whiting Way in Coquitlam.

A woman was found with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound and was immediately taken to the hospital for medical assistance.

Coquitlam RCMP apprehended and arrested a 21-year-old male without incident at the scene and he remains in custody.

The Lower Mainland District Emergency Response Team was also called to assist. The news release stated that it appears to be an isolated incident and there is no risk to public safety.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or who may have further information is asked to contact the Coquitlam RCMP at 604-945-1550 or Crime Stoppers, if they wish to remain anonymous, at 1-800-222-8477 or www.solvecrime.ca.

Coquitlam RCMP are still remaining at the scene as the investigation is ongoing. There is no further information provided at this time.



Possible Bigfoot sighting shocks, excites Silverton residents

Sasquatch sighting probed

‘Twas the night of Christmas

And through the West Koot

Not a creature was sighted

Except maybe Bigfoot

At least, that’s how the famous poem could go after a group of travellers spotted what they say might have been a Bigfoot – also known as a Sasquatch – near Silverton on Christmas night.

The four friends were heading to their home on Hwy 6 just south of Silverton on the evening of December 25 when the people in the front of the vehicle saw what looked like a “huge, man-like figure” on the side of the road.

“I didn’t see the creature myself, I saw the prints,” says Erica Spink-D’Souza, who was in the back seat. She’s become the informal spokesperson for her companions. “But the person on the front seat cried out ‘Oh my gosh look at that!’”

“They said it looked like a huge grizzly, or it was a large man, standing up.”

But before Spink-D’Souza could catch a glimpse, the figure turned, went on all fours, and headed deep into the bush.

“We tried to turn around and look again, but it was gone,” she says.

After arriving home and putting her kids to bed, they returned to the scene to look for signs of the mysterious creature.

“We saw all these different tracks, and then we saw these tracks that were really alarming,” she recalls. “They were bipedal tracks in a straight line into the woods…

“I got a little spooked, it was alarming to see such big prints. But there were no bear tracks.”

Spink-D’Souza and the others examined and photographed the tracks, and then she filed a report with a Bigfoot organization online.

‘Un-hoax-able’

The head of the Bigfoot Field Research Group, Matt Moneymaker (who also co-hosted a long-running Animal Planet TV show called Finding Bigfoot), described the tracks as “un-hoax-able.”

“The surrounding pristine snow proves the tracks were not fabricated by humans,” he says. “The stride length is beyond the ability of a human trying to leap through knee-deep snow. The drag marks and depth of the tracks prove they are not from a leaping rabbit. The linear pattern shows that it was not a bear.”

Moneymaker also says it’s unlikely someone was trying to hoax random travellers on an empty stretch of road on Christmas night.

Spink-D’Souza, who just recently moved to the area, says she’s never had something like this happen to her before – though she’s heard weird animal sounds howling in the bush around her new home.

She says locals she’s spoken to have generally accepted her claim.

‘Well, it’s the Kootenays,” she says, laughing. “I tell them what happened, and they start telling me their Bigfoot stories.

“People were saying ‘oh, that’s The Wanderer, there’s a sasquatch who wanders around here,’” she says. “It sounds like around here people are pretty open to the possibility there is one.”

Investigators arrive

The sighting was strong enough that members of an Okanagan Bigfoot group returned to the location about 10 days after the sighting.

But after investigating the scene and examining the tracks carefully, the team put a damper on the excitement.

“They suspect the tracks are from a very large moose,” says Moneymaker, who’s based in California. “The witnesses may have seen a large female moose facing forward and mistook it for a man-like figure.”

But since nearly two weeks had passed since the initial sighting, Moneymaker says there’s still room to believe.

“It’s up in the air,” he says. “In most cases I can usually say it’s looking more one way than the other, but in this case I can’t. I think there are moose tracks in the area, yes, but there are witnesses who said they did not see a moose.”

Moneymaker says he’d love someone with a drone to fly along the trail of the purported tracks to see where they lead.

Ancient hominid?

Sasquatches are thought by some to be present in the West Kootenay. Paranormal researchers believe it could be a lost sub-species of hominid, like the extinct Gigantopithecus, a large ape-like creature whose remains have been found in southeast Asia. However, no convincing physical evidence has ever been found to support those claims.

For Spink-D’Souza, the incident has left her with a larger sense of the magic of the world.

“It leaves me with a sense of awe and wonderment on all the beautiful mysteries of this world,” she says, noting Indigenous cultures recognize the existence of the sasquatch.

“In terms of looking for evidence, in concrete ways, that’s fine, but I do hold a respect that there are people around who know of the existence of sasquatch and that’s marvellous.”

If you see a sasquatch, you’re invited to contact the Bigfoot Field Research Organization through their website.



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Hotels, motels would be devastated by tighter travel restrictions

No to travel ban

With people discouraged from travelling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hotels and motels have taken a huge financial hit.

And operators are concerned more restrictions by the provincial government will make things even harder.

BC’s beleaguered tourism and hospitality industry says a ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel not only goes against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it would also further cripple a sector that is hanging on by a thread.

BC Premier John Horgan said a ban on out-of-province travellers is being mulled and the Tourism Industry Association of BC commissioned a legal opinion that states a travel ban would be difficult to implement because the Supreme Court of Canada has held that Canadians’ mobility rights are among the most cherished rights of citizenship that are fundamental to nationhood.

According to the coalition, “These rights are so important they cannot be overridden by the notwithstanding clause. Government will be required to justify any infringement of those rights by showing they are carefully tailored to solve a real problem that other health measures that do not restrict Canadians’ rights cannot achieve.”

The coalition said it would also be challenging for government to justify creating classes of Canadian citizens based on provincial residency, and that the government would have to explain how a provincial ban would be logical and justified when the federal government permits Canadians to travel for non-essential purposes and return to Canada through any province of their choice.

The coalition acknowledges the work by government and frontline health care workers to manage the pandemic, and stresses it is not advocating to irresponsibly open the province to all travel at this time. “However, industry leaders point out that since the start of the pandemic, the tourism and hospitality industry has supported provincial COVID-19 protocols and prioritized health and safety by developing and implementing extensive health and safety measures to protect guests, employees and residents,” it said in a statement.

Industry leaders have repeatedly emphasized that travel is not the culprit for the spread of COVID-19, but rather individual behaviour.

Coalition members are urging the government to steer away from the notion of a travel ban in favour of working with the industry and communities to educate prospective visitors on their responsibilities such as BC health and safety protocols, as well as expected individual behaviour.



Man arrested after reported shooting in Coquitlam overnight

Arrest after shooting

A massive police response descended on a Coquitlam condominium complex early Saturday morning, after reports that a woman was shot and lying bloodied in the lobby.

Paramedics rushed the victim to Royal Columbian Hospital with undetermined injuries and a man was taken from the scene in handcuffs.

RCMP Emergency Response Team units were seen outside the building at 652 Whiting Way and large sections of the sidewalk outside had been taped off by police.

The shooting, thought to have occurred just after midnight Saturday morning emptied the building just south of Burquitlam Station of residents after someone had triggered a fire alarm. Residents were kept outside for hours while police officers dealt with any potential threats

Whiting Way and Foster Street were blocked in all directions.

Coquitlam RCMP has yet to release any details of the shooting.

This is the second shooting in the city in the past week. On Jan. 10, residents of a Burke Mountain neighbourhood were left in shock after a drive-by shooting sent one man to hospital and left the street littered in shell casings.

At the time, Coquitlam RCMP said it was unclear whether the shooting was connected to a rise in gang violence seen across the Lower Mainland of late.



New COVID cases fall in Central Okanagan, rise elsewhere in Okanagan

New cases up and down

New cases of COVID-19 continue to drop in the Central Okanagan, while they're rising across much of the rest of the Okanagan.

On Friday evening, two days later than usual, the BC Centre for Disease published the latest map of new COVID-19 cases by local health area, the most detailed geographical data the province releases.

Between Jan. 3 and 9, 110 people in the Central Okanagan contracted the virus, down from 139 the week before and nearly half of the new cases in the region from the week before that. This gives the area a weekly rate of 52 infections per 100,000 people, which is significantly less than the provincial average of 75.

But the Central Okanagan is one of the few areas in the region that continues to move in the right direction.

The South Okanagan saw weekly cases jump to 43, up from 27. This puts the region at a rate of 211 weekly infections per 100,000 people, one of the highest rates of infection in B.C. New cases in the region have been largely attributed to outbreaks at two care homes, including the McKinney Place care home where 17 residents have died.

Cases in the Kettle Valley area more than doubled the new cases from the week before, with nine new cases. With a population of just 3,591 people, the nine new cases give the region a shockingly high weekly rate of infection of 250 per 100,000 people.

In the Vernon area, 98 new cases were identified from Jan. 3 to 9, up from 76 the week before, while cases in Penticton have remained relatively low, with 13 new cases, compared to 15 the week prior.

Five new cases were identified in the Grand Forks region, up from zero the week before, while new cases also rose dramatically in the Salmon Arm region, to 17 from just four from the week prior.

New cases stayed relatively stable in the Kamloops region, while cases rose in the Cariboo regions.

Last week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said cases have been rising across the entire Interior Health region, largely stemming from holiday gatherings and other small social gatherings.

To date, 46 people in the Interior have died from COVID-19, including 31 who were residents of long-term care homes.



Impaired driver found guilty in pair of 2016 deaths near Chetwynd

Guilty in fatal head-on crash

Cole Kenneth Archibald MacDonald was found guilty Friday for the impaired driving deaths of a man and woman near Chetwynd in 2016.

Dawson Creek Supreme Court Justice Michael Brundett said the 38-year-old MacDonald was impaired by fentanyl and benzodiazepines when he swerved into oncoming traffic on Highway 97, killing the pair in a head-on collision on June 24, 2016.

“I find that the collision was caused by the accused’s impaired ability to drive,” said Brundett. “I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused’s impaired ability was a deciding factor in these deaths.”

Though RCMP found no pills or alcohol in his vehicle, MacDonald was found stumbling at the scene as if drunk, and later tested positive for the drugs while being treated for minor injuries at the hospital.

MacDonald denied accusations of drinking by RCMP, Brundett noted, and said road and weather conditions were not a factor in the collision.

MacDonald appeared in person for the judgment, and was convicted on two separate charges of impaired driving causing death, one for each victim.

He’ll return to court next month to set a date for sentencing.



Passenger traffic down 70 per cent last year at Victoria airport

Victoria airport hurting

Only six flights are expected to arrive and depart over a 12-hour period today at Victoria International Airport. Four other scheduled flights were cancelled, likely because of low passenger counts that wouldn’t even cover the costs of starting a jet.

There are no international flights and certainly nothing flying south to vacation hot spots as in previous years, when there were as many as 100 flights a day to and from destinations across Canada and into the U.S. and Mexico.

Amid the pandemic, this is a typical weekend at YYJ, as public health orders continue to crush air travel and suffocate one of the region’s major economic drivers.

Passenger traffic declined sharply in 2020, ­sliding 70% per cent from the year before, according to the Victoria Airport Authority. The 590,076 passengers who passed through the terminal last year represent a precipitous drop from the 1.924 million in 2019 and the record 2.04 million in 2018.

Authority chief executive Geoff Dickson said since 90% of the revenue generated at the airport is tied to passenger traffic and aircraft activity, the effect on revenue has been severe. “It’s been astonishing,” Dickson said Friday. “It’s a struggle.”

In its year-end report, the airport authority said revenue for 2020 was down 55% from 2019, at $17.5 million — and it would have been worse if not for two normal months at the beginning of the year and the benefit of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which was treated as revenue.

Landing fees, terminal fees and airport improvement fees were all squeezed, and contracts with restaurants, retail, car rentals, parking and ground transportation were either renegotiated or moved to percentage rent, where rent is based on the ­tenant’s gross income rather than a fixed amount.

The authority said the only stable stream of revenue was rent from various aviation-related businesses on Victoria airport lands.

Similar hits have been seen at airports across the province, including in Kelowna and Prince George.

Overall, net income for the Victoria airport authority has gone from a surplus of $9.2 million in 2019 to a loss of $7.5 million in 2020, even though the airport trimmed operating expenses by 25% during the year. The authority said in its report that YYJ is vital to the economic health of the region, and it’s critical that safe air travel restarts quickly to put YYJ in a position “to continue to drive growth for southern Vancouver Island.”

Dickson said Victoria is involved with other ­airports in discussions with the federal ­government on relief measures, including the indefinite suspension of the rent Ottawa charges airports, and on restoring confidence in air travel by funding “consistent” COVID-19 testing to reduce quarantine times.

In late November, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced plans to eliminate rent for airports the size of YYJ for one year, which is expected to save the airport about $350,000.

Dickson said the airport authority would like to see its rent requirements waived either in ­perpetuity or at least until passenger traffic is restored to 2019 levels, which it anticipates won’t happen until at least 2024.

As for COVID-19 testing, Dickson said in his report that a patchwork of travel restrictions and health-safety measures across provinces has ­created confusion. Rapid testing, along with ­vaccines, would eliminate the need for quarantine periods and increase confidence for everyone, he said, “knowing that anyone in an airport or on a flight tested negative.”

In ongoing discussions with Ottawa, airports have raised proposals such as interest-free loans or direct operational support for airports and a new stream of funding for safety and security-related infrastructure.

But Dickson said a national approach to COVID?19 rapid testing of air travellers to reduce or eliminate 14-day quarantines is key to restoring confidence in air travel. He noted that COVID-19 exposures have been reported on less than 1% of domestic flights.



UBC expert addresses COVID-19 'vaccine hesitancy' in Canada

'They work and are safe'

While many Canadians are still apprehensive about getting immunized against COVID-19, a recent poll suggests that the majority are willing to roll up their sleeves.

Angus Reid polled Canadians this month and found that a firm majority – 60 per cent of respondents – are now willing to be immunized.

But while more people are willing to take the vaccine, 23 per cent of respondents indicated they would prefer to wait, while 12 per cent reported they would not get vaccinated and five per cent remained unsure.

The number of those who outright say they will not be vaccinated is below one-in-ten, for example, in British Columbia (8%) and Ontario (8%) but is one-in-five in Alberta (20%) and Saskatchewan (19%). In those two latter provinces, just half of residents say they would like to be vaccinated right away.

Why are some people hesitant about taking a COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Julie Bettinger, an associate professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine, is a vaccine safety scientist at the Vaccine Evaluation Center at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and a member of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

For Bettinger, the "newness" of the vaccine causes reluctance for some people. "Many are concerned about whether or not the vaccine will work, about short- and long-term safety of the vaccine, about its “newness” and the unknowns that come with a new vaccine," she explains in a news release.

Bettinger adds that most of these concerns can be addressed. Further, the two vaccines Canada is currently using--the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines-- work incredibly well.

"The clinical trial results were striking in terms of efficacy. We expect to see some decrease in terms of how well these vaccines will work when used in real-life settings, but given how well they performed in clinical trial settings they will still be very effective," she says.

What can be done to combat vaccine hesitancy?

Currently, British Columbia isn't seeing an issue with vaccine hesitancy since there is such a limited supply of vaccines. That said, Bettinger notes that improving vaccine literacy--especially among children--is key to combating the issue down the road.

"It’s important to educate yourself and your friends and family about the immune system and how vaccines work. Recognize and counter vaccine misinformation and disinformation, in-person and online," she advises.

"There is no debate in the scientific community about vaccines. They work and are safe."

Will Canada reach herd immunity if not everyone is vaccinated against COVID-19?

Bettinger says that health officials don't know if any of the vaccines will lead to herd immunity. "We know they prevent symptomatic disease, but we don’t know if they stop transmission of COVID-19. If they can stop transmission, then it would require high vaccine coverage to reach herd immunity."

Short-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines

For the most part, Berttinger says people can expect a sore arm after receiving the vaccine. And while some may feel like they are sick for two or three days--like they have a cold or the flu--they will generally feel fine after that time. "These are normal side effects to the vaccine and demonstrate the immune system is responding."

That being said, some people do have allergic reactions following vaccination. However, Bettinger says this is expected and reactions "are not occurring at a rate higher than what we would expect with a new vaccine."

Long-term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines

In terms of long-term side effects from the vaccine, Bettinger says "we don’t have the data and will need to continue to monitor to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines."

With this in mind, she adds, "We also don’t know the long-term effects of being infected with COVID-19. But what is emerging shows there are long-term effects from COVID-19 infection, such as “brain fog,” which severely alter an individual’s health.

"Based on what we know about how COVID-19 vaccines work, we would not expect them to have long-term adverse effects."



COVID cases identified on 13 recent flights in B.C.

More COVID on B.C. flights

The BC Centre for Disease Control has identified 13 more B.C. flights on which passengers may have been exposed to the coronavirus while travelling this month.

All but two of the recent affected flights involved the Vancouver International Airport, and none involve Kelowna.

The public health agency warned passengers that they could have been exposed to COVID-19 while onboard the following recent flights:

  • Jan 5: Air Canada 127, Toronto to Vancouver (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 5: American Airlines 1539, Dallas to Vancouver (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 6: American Airlines 1539, Dallas to Vancouver (Affected rows 9-13)
  • Jan 7: Air Canada 107, Toronto to Vancouver (Affected rows 1-6)
  • Jan 7: Air Canada 344, Vancouver to Ottawa (Affected rows16-22)
  • Jan 8: WestJet 3176, Abbotsford to Calgary (Affected rows 15-20)
  • Jan 9: Air Canada 115, Toronto to Vancouver (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 8: Lufthansa 492, Frankfurt to Vancouver (Affected rows 23-25)
  • Jan 9: WestJet 725, Toronto to Vancouver (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 10: Air Canada 106, Vancouver to Toronto (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 10: Air Canada 241, Edmonton to Vancouver (Affected rows not reported)
  • Jan 11: Air Canada 305, Montreal to Vancouver (Affected rows 14-20)
  • Jan 11: WestJet 3231, Calgary to Abbotsford (Affected rows 15-20)

This announcement is the latest in a string of notifications identifying recent flights that carried one or more individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 since their flight. This week alone, the BCCDC already added 65 recent flights to its list of possible COVID-19 exposures.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases remaining in the hundreds each day, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry implemented new orders last month instructing British Columbians to avoid any non-essential travel outside their home communities. As of this week, those orders have been extended until at least Feb. 5.

The BCCDC is encouraging travellers who recently arrived in B.C. to check the public health agency's website for updates about flights identified for potential exposures. Passengers who flew aboard a domestic flight flagged for carrying a COVID-19 case are encouraged to self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days following their flight.

While self-monitoring for symptoms of the virus— which may include fever, cough, chills, sore throat, loss of sense of smell or taste and many more—individuals should take and record their temperature daily, and avoid taking fever-reducing medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, if possible, for the full 14 days. The average normal body temperature taken orally is about 37°C, according to the BCCDC.



Woman faces charges after gun shots were fired in a Salmo home early Friday morning

Shots fired in Salmo

A 43-year-old Salmo woman is facing potential criminal charges after she allegedly fired shots in a Salmo home early Friday morning.

Around 3:50 a.m., Salmo RCMP received a report of a situation unfolding in the 1800-block of Airport Road in Salmo. Initially, police were told a woman had entered the property and allegedly discharged a firearm at the home.

Four adults were inside that home at the time of the shooting, all were reportedly uninjured. One person sprayed bear spray at the suspect, who fled the area.

"The police investigation led officers to the location of the suspect at another nearby property where she was taken into custody without further incident," says Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey, spokesperson for the BC RCMP in the Southeast District.

"RCMP believe the incident was isolated in nature, and therefore do not believe there is any further risk to the general public."

The investigation is ongoing and will be supported by forensic specialists. The suspect, a 43-year-old Salmo woman now faces potential criminal charges. She remains in custody at this time.

Anyone with any additional information is asked to contact the Salmo RCMP at 250-357-2212.



Kicking Horse Canyon closure on Highway 1 gets extended to Spring

Work continues on Hwy 1

There will be an extended spring closure on Highway 1 construction in Kicking Horse Canyon.

People driving along Highway 1 through Golden should expect to start seeing more crews working to convert the last 4.8 kilometres of narrow, winding two-lane road, to a modern four-lane standard, the province says.

Highway 1 through the canyon just east of Golden will be closed for a month during the spring 2021 shoulder season.

"This closure will allow crews to proceed with work that cannot be carried out safely during shorter interruptions, such as major excavation, piling and hauling," explains the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

From April 12 to May 14, through traffic on Highway 1 from Golden to Castle Junction will be routed via highways 93 and 95. This adds up to 1.5 hours of travel time. Signs for the closure and alternative routes will be posted in advance.

"The construction zone will be opened briefly to local/commuter traffic twice daily, escorted by a pilot vehicle during one half-hour period beginning at 7 a.m. and one half-hour period beginning at 4:30 p.m. Similar escorts will be provided for school buses so students will have uninterrupted access to school. Emergency vehicles in response mode will be provided escorted passage on short notice," the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure adds.

Updates on delays will be available online.



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